Smokers Who Switch to Vaping May Take Up Healthier Routines, New UW Study Shows


Rick Kosterman, a UW researcher, would never say that vaping is good.

But a new University of Washington study shows smokers who switch to e-cigarettes may have more opportunities for healthier choices. That doesn't mean vaping is healthful, researchers said, but for people who already smoke (and aren't able to quit) it can be associated with healthy routines.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The co-authors of the study stressed e-cigarettes have substantial public health downsides, including popularity among young people, particularly those not previously addicted to nicotine. The study, however, focused on asking whether vaping can be beneficial to existing smokers unable to to quit.

For the study, Kosterman and his co-authors, Marina Epstein, Jennifer Bailey and David Hawkins, connected with a group of 800 Seattleites who are part of a landmark study that began in 1985 when they were elementary school students.

The UW study focused on 156 of those participants. This subsample reported smoking combustible cigarettes at age 30 and smoking or vaping at age 39.

The research team surveyed participants, when they were 30 and 39, about nine measures of healthy aging and well-being and how often they engaged in certain activities.

Of the 156 participants, 64% smoked only combustible cigarettes at age 39, 28% smoked and vaped, and 8% only vaped. The roughly one third of the group that shifted to vaping some or all the time by age 39 reported better physical health, exercised more and had more active social engagement, the study found.

"Although the study cannot show a causal relationship, we think that because e-cigarettes have less stigma, less odor and are less physically harmful, they may increase health-promoting opportunities among smokers." Kosterman said. People who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to be in settings that promote physical activity and to interact more with nonsmokers, he said.

"What we're saying is that e-cigs do have a positive role to play for existing adult smokers who continue to use nicotine," he said.